A Big, Loud, Russian Helicopter

Since the open house at Luke AFB back in March, not much of anything has happened on this site. However, by no means have I been sitting around and doing nothing all summer. As I write this post, I am ten hours away from flying home from St. Petersburg, Russia, where I have spent the last two months studying the Russian language and immersing myself in Russian culture. Though it had its difficult moments, it turned out to be a fantastic experience, and I am already trying to figure out a way to come back.

Russia’s achievements in spaceflight and aviation are what first got me interested in learning the language. Naturally, then, I was thrilled to get the chance to visit the country and hopefully see Russian airplanes and spaceflight relics in person. Unfortunately, though St. Petersburg is a great city, it has little to offer in those respects. There is a museum of cosmonautics on the grounds of the Peter and Paul Fortress, but it was undergoing renovation at the time of my visit and was not up to its usual standards. There is, however, one attraction in the city for those who love aviation. Specifically, this:

Mil Mi-8

Click the “continue reading” link for further details.

This is RA-24477, a Mil Mi-8 operated by Baltic Airlines. On weekends in the Summer, this helicopter operates out of Peter and Paul Fortress performing sightseeing flights over the center of the city. Its helipad on the north end of Hare Island becomes a tourist attraction in and of itself, as it is a sort of St. Maarten for St. Petersburg. The first time I ventured out to the helipad, I picked a spot I thought would be close enough for nice video and a bit of rotor wash and waited for takeoff. I got way more than I expected.

I hadn’t paid attention to the wind sock next to the helipad and ended up standing directly upwind. Similarly, on landing, I expected the helicopter to come in at more of an angle relative to the fortress and ended up a bit closer than I intended. By the time I realized this, moving wasn’t an option. If I had tried to pick my feet up the rotor wash would have blown me into the street behind me (it was already trying hard to rip my phone out of my hands).

As a disclaimer, I do not recommend standing directly under any aircraft’s climbout or approach path. I wouldn’t have stood where I did if I knew it would have put the helicopter directly over me.

The next day, I went for a ride. This was my first ever flight in a helicopter of any description, and the iconic, tough-as-nails workhorse of Soviet and Russian helicopters is one heck of a way to lose one’s rotor-wing virginity.

In between filming takeoff and landing on my phone, I was taking photos with my 7D.

Click here to see photos from my Mi-8 ride!

CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS FROM MY Mi-8 RIDE

Though this one Russian experience fits best with the theme of this website, I did far more on this trip than accelerate my eventual aviation-related hearing loss (Soviet engineers had a “Meh, good enough.” attitude when it came to soundproofing passenger aircraft). CLICK HERE to see the rest of my photo albums from this trip.

Despite recent political tensions, Russia is a fascinating country and St. Petersburg is a great place to visit. I hope to someday return to see even more of Russia than I already have and to further improve my skills in the language.

Even though summer is drawing to a close and I will soon be heading back down to Arizona, there are still plenty of aviation events I’m planning on photographing before the year is out. Seafair, my first home air show of 2014, is rapidly approaching, and I’m eagerly awaiting the Blue Angels’ triumphant return to the skies over Lake Washington.

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